The right answer is yes, no and maybe. It all depends on your point of view.
End User: If you need a nice small travel laptop for work or learning that runs mainly web based applications, your answer might be a resounding YES! Many of the netbooks available today have plenty of ‘horse power’ to run a few key applications and perform well when running web 2.0 applications. I have been ‘road testing’ one of the Lenovo IdeaPads. I loaded it up with a few apps including open office, skype, the first class client, MSN, iTunes, Adobe Reader and Smart Ideas, a graphic organizer. Other than these apps, everything else is web based. Other than the quirkiness of the keyboard <SHIFT> key and <ENTER> layout (or my slow adaptability to a new layout) and the screen being a little small as far as real estate goes for some applications, the IdeaPad performed well and behaved in a stable manner.
Point to ponder: Would you give up your desktop or full sized laptop for a netbook? Personally, I would not be ready to make this type of a switch at this point in time. At least for the type of work I do, there are too many times where have a full screen to facilitate multi window operation of some sort, more serious document editing or something more intensive such as audio and/or video editing. I would find the small screen and extending timeframes working with tight key arrangement on the keyboard less than idea. Perfect for travel, but I am keeping another computer or full size laptop.
Enterprise needs: I am changing hats now. Let’s look at this from the IT Management viewpoint. In the setting of our school board, interest in netbooks (or the promise of the Mac tablet) is on the rise. From a planning point of view, the price point is certainly positioned to allow you the opportunity to buy more equipment for the same level of funding. On the assumption you could match the application suite and access to the equipment to maximize the use, netbooks look pretty attractive. But, before you rush away to buy a large number of netbooks, there is another side to consider.
Many current netbooks ship with Windows XP Home with no supported upgrade or conversion path to Windows XP Pro. The XP Home version limits you to local machine and workgroup access. Using the netbook in a network domain environment with group policies and defined security permissions is not an option. In addition, many enterprise level tools for imaging, patching, software updating and application package distribution rely on a domain based structure to properly manage the computers. This is where I think we are stuck yet. If you can manage the netbooks, at least easily, then this is a double edged sword. The price point and web usage is there, but you are limited in maintaining and supporting the machines. You can’t say you don’t need to support the machines – just wait until you have a few messed up and now some class in not functioning properly. They staff and students will want support to fix the computers or restore them to a usable state.
Things look more promising with Windows 7 on the horizon. Then again, how many large organizations are ready to roll with a Windows 7 deployment backed up with an organization wide support model?
My View: At least at this point in time, I stand by my yes, no and maybe answer. I do believe netbooks are here to stay, and will be valuable learning tools. It is just a little to early in the game. I will be interested to see how things unfold over the next few months because I think we are close.
Test Freaks: Netbook reviews and ratings
PC World: Road Warriors Guide to Netbooks
Sync Blog: Should your child have a netbook?